Jaja’s defiance seemed to me now like Aunty Ifeoma’s experimental purple hibiscus: rare, fragrant with the undertones of freedom, a different kind of freedom from the one the crowds waving green leaves chanted at Government Square after the coup. A freedom to be, to do.Set in Nigeria, Purple Hibiscus is the story of fifteen-year-old Kambili. She and her family live in fear of her father, a brutal and controlling man. Kambili’s father fights corruption and censorship, pays the school fees of numberless children, and helps those of his community who are in need. Yet in return he demands that they all share his strict Catholic faith, and rejects those who don’t, including his own father. And at home, he terrorizes his wife and children. After a military coup which is followed by social unrest, Kambili and her brother Jaja go to stay with their aunt. There, they discover a whole new way of living, and Kambili finally learns what her own laughter sounds like.
Reading Purple Hibiscus made me have one of those why-didn’t-you-tell-me-she-was-this-good-oh-wait-you-did-actually moments. I really need to start listening to you all sooner, because yes, Adichie is an extraordinary writer. Purple Hibiscus is wise, perceptive, subtle, and perfectly paced. It’s a story of political unrest, of gender and power, of religious fundamentalism, of faith, of freedom, of growing up, and of first love.
I loved seeing Kambili discover all the new things, all the simple facts about life that had been kept from her at her father’s house. While she’s staying with her aunt, she discovers new ways of acting, of inhabiting her own body, even. She learns new definitions of faith, of what it means to be a girl, to be young, to be alive, to laugh. She learns that it's okay to share laughter and conversation during a meal, to speak before you're spoken to. She learns what it’s like to live without fear. We see how her father’s brutality had invaded even the most hidden corners of who she was, and it’s wonderful and moving to watch her become her own person once she’s given the chance.
Kambili’s father was also quite an interesting character. He’s extremely intolerant and he’s capable of horrifying acts of violence – there are some chilling scenes of domestic violence and of child abuse. And yet he’s human, and complex, and an actual person with fears and contradiction. This makes Purple Hibiscus a much better story than it would have been had he been portrayed as a monster. In an interview at the end of my edition, Adichie says she wanted him to be complex so that he would be less easy to dismiss. I think this is an excellent point. It’s important to understand that in the real world, acts of violence of this kind are committed by real people, not by bogeymen. Understanding this would probably help us realize that they aren’t as uncommon as one might think.
I leave you with a link to this excellent video interview with Adichie, which I discovered via Claire's blog. I loved hearing what she had to say about writing and politics, about gender and power, about novels and short stories. Like the books she writes, she's very perceptive and wise.
That night, I dreamed that I was laughing, but it did not sound like my laughter, although I was not sure what my laughter sounded like. It was cackling and throaty and enthusiastic, like Aunty Ifeoma’s.Other Opinions:
As we drove back to Enugu, I laughed loudly, above Fela’s stringent singing. I laughed because Nsukka’s untarred roads coat cars with dust in the harmattan and with sticky mud in the rainy season. Because the tarred roads spring potholes like surprise presents and the air smells of hills and history and the sunlight scatters the sand and turns it into gold dust. Because Nsukka could free something deep inside your belly that would rise up to your throat and come out as a freedom song. As laughter.
There are people, she once wrote, who think that we cannot rule ourselves because the few times we tried, we failed, as if all the others who rule themselves today got it right the first time. It is like telling a crawling baby who tried to walk, and then falls back on his buttocks, to stay there. As if the adults walking past him did not all crawl, once.
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the hidden side of a leaf
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everything distils into reading
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